Homeland Security agency stumbles in every direction
A congressional report has found that participants in a security program at ports have been allowed to police themselves.
Creation of the Department of Homeland Security was a necessary step by Congress to defend against terrorism following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. However, recent reports about ineptness and corruption signal a need for closer congressional oversight of the huge bureaucracy, which appears to be in disarray.
A new report by the congressional Government Accountability Office found that the department's U.S. Customs division has failed to examine many of the 8,000 importers, port authorities and air, sea and land carriers required to meet minimum security standards in exchange for reduced scrutiny. The agency cannot guarantee that the companies are in full compliance, risking the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction in cargo containers.
The GAO found three years ago that Customs had failed to gain assurance from entities included in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism that they were in compliance with the standards. The new report found Customs still cannot provide such guarantees.
Meanwhile, corruption among U.S. Border Patrol agents has resulted in the smuggling of illegal immigrants, drugs and other contraband across the U.S. border with Mexico. The Homeland Security Department's inspector general's office conducted 79 investigations in the four states bordering Mexico in the 2007 fiscal year, compared to 31 in 2003. Two hundred open cases are pending against law enforcement employees who work the border.
The Border Patrol is expected to grow to more than 20,000 agents by the end of next year, more than double the size in 2001. The department dissolved its internal affairs unit in 2003 and reinstituted it last year. It is expected to grow from five investigators to 200 by the end of this year.
The department also has been unable to fully execute a program requiring seaport workers such as truckers, dock workers and deckhands to obtain biometric identification cards. Of the million or so seaport workers, little more than a third pre-enrolled and fewer than 90,000 cards have been issued. Many employees who applied for cards months ago have failed to receive them.
Meanwhile, the department has baffled state officials with a strange directive requiring states to come up with plans to intercept improvised explosive devices, the homemade roadside bombs known as IEDs, the main killer of American troops in Iraq.
"There was no new intelligence about this," said Juliette N. Kayyem, the Massachusetts homeland security adviser. "It just came out of nowhere." The department provided no new information about the danger of explosive bomb threats in the United States. More openly than ever, state and local officials are saying they have more urgent priorities.